Arrow’s Katie Cassidy on the Black Canary, Laurel’s Transformation, and Tonight’s ‘Huge’ Episode

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Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Laurel has gone through a lot in three seasons of Arrow: the deaths of her sister and her boyfriend, addiction, constantly being taken hostage by bad guys. The whole time, actress Katie Cassidy knew that eventually she’d be suiting up to play the Black Canary. While being a hero hasn’t exactly gone smoothly either (the first time she tried to fight a bad guy, she ended up in the hospital), last week she helped save the city! Vulture chatted with Cassidy about this week’s episode, Laurel’s evolution, and her place on Team Arrow. 

I loved that you said you cried when you put on the leather jacket for the first time.
I know, I feel like such a dork [laughs].

No, it’s so endearing! But for fans, Laurel’s big entrance as the Black Canary was when she said, “I’m the justice you can’t run from.” So can you talk me through filming that scene and what that felt like for you?
I mean, it was exciting and liberating. It’s so cool! It’s so badass! I’m having the time of my life playing this character! For Laurel, she goes [into] season three from avenging her sister’s death to honoring her sister’s death to then taking over and becoming her, the Black Canary. I just think that the writers did such a brilliant job with my character and making sure that she earns it and has earned it. And just because now she’s in a suit, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s good. She still gets knocked down. As much heart as she has, and as much spirit as she has, and anger inside of her that she wants to get out — by taking care of the city and going after these bad guys — she still hasn’t had the proper training. I think that it’s good because it shows that you can’t just all of a sudden be good and be this “superhero” just by putting on a costume. So she does get knocked down several times. I think she ends up questioning and maybe doubting herself. And there will be somebody who kind of builds her back up and reminds her that this was her choice. Sara didn’t have a choice. Laurel has a choice. Even though she has no skill or training or it’s messy, she’s still doing something and making a difference because she has everything else. I think there’s a bit of a wake-up call in this next episode, “Canaries,” for Laurel. It’s a really huge episode. It’s really exciting. I think that the audience will be very thrilled and involved. It’s action-packed and shocking. It was really crazy to shoot, but it was so awesome and so badass. I hope everyone’s happy with it.

In terms of your training regimen, how do you, Katie, feel that has influenced the way that Laurel and the Black Canary carry themselves?
Well, 100 percent! Physically, the transformation had to be there, because last season I was literally at work almost every day, crying, not me, physically, Laurel. The way they had written my character, she was just a mess. And I give 110 percent of myself to any job or character that I’m going to portray. I really felt like I had to be in it and live in it. It became exhausting and tiring and it definitely wore me down, but like we’ve always said, you have to earn it. For Laurel, she had to hit rock bottom in order to come back out on top. So I knew at the end of season two, once I put that jacket on, I knew I had big shoes to fill. Caity Lotz is an amazing actor, and she did so well portraying Canary. Those are big shoes that I needed to fill.

So I dedicated part of my hiatus to buckling down and focusing on training. I came to Vancouver a month before we started shooting and was training almost three hours a day, six days a week. I’d wake up in the morning and, for example, I would do a spin class, and then in the afternoon I’d have fight training, and immediately after fight training I would have weight-lifting. I was constantly doing different things to keep my body guessing. It was tiring. It was hard. It’s great because my boxing trainer, he treats me like a fighter. Our stunt coordinator James Bamford was like, “Treat her like a fighter, just don’t hit her in the face.” I spoke with [showrunner] Marc Guggenheim recently about the Black Canary’s first reveal, and we really sold it because of the physical change. Because I went from [the] second season where I was this tiny little twig to putting on some serious muscle and becoming this badass! It definitely builds confidence in the way that, if I even have that suit on, the way I hold myself, I think, is different. It’s a huge transformation.

People on this show really have different moral compasses, and they are constantly evolving. How do you feel like Laurel’s moral compass has changed since the first season?
Well, she used to be very much by-the-book like her father. I think now she has seen, obviously, the Arrow is doing good, not necessarily through the law. But you don’t have to go through the law to make sure justice is being served. So obviously her point of view on that has definitely changed. I think her point of view on a lot of things has changed [laughs]. I’m like thinking about where I was season one and I’m like, Oh my gosh! I think, you know, she’s gone through so much that I think she’s just evolved as a character and become that much stronger and brave. I feel like if anyone can take on losing her sister, losing Oliver, Oliver showing back up, her sister showing back up, her sister dying again, losing Tommy — I feel like if there’s anybody who could take all of this, it’s her. It’s just built her up. It’s built [her] character and made her rise above, she has to rise above, and she’s, I think, certainly earned it.

In terms of earning it, her alcoholism story line last season was so well done. How do you think her being a recovering addict influences her as a hero?
Um, you know … It definitely changes some things because when she does … you know … I’m trying not to give anything away, sorry. Next episode we’ll see her again, like you said, she’s gotten knocked down, she’s gonna be getting knocked down because she doesn’t have the skill. She has the mindset and the heart for being the Black Canary, but she needs to be trained. And for somebody who’s a recovering addict, you can’t get hurt and go to the hospital … they don’t want to be shot up with anything, painkillers. They don’t do that. I think Laurel is very focused on maintaining her sobriety.  I think it also makes it that much — what’s the right word? — that much more difficult, because her life is like a whirlwind. She has opportunities where she would probably love to turn to drugs or alcohol. She’s constantly being challenged, but she’s strong enough and her sobriety’s so much of her life and so important to her. I think that we’ll see her, or them, have to make decisions for her when it comes to when she gets knocked down. You know when she gets thrown around how she’s gonna deal with it, pain-wise. That’s all I can really say about that. I don’t want to give too much away.

Where do you feel like Laurel’s at in terms of how confident she felt as a hero before this next episode and how confident she feels after this episode?
There’s a moment — I shouldn’t say a moment — there’s a big part of her after going out there, she just starts to doubt herself and somebody kind of reminds her and just says to her, "You’re doing this because you chose to do it. You’re not your sister, you’re you. You’re different and you have this incredible heart and drive, and everything inside of you — you’re doing this not only for your sister but for you, and the city, and because you care so much and you’re choosing to do it." And I think she comes out of the episode feeling 100 percent more confident and believing in herself. It’s almost as though she gets sort of off-track and then someone puts her back on track again. And she really believes in herself after this.

Can we just quickly talk about Laurel’s place in Team Arrow now? Can you talk about your relationship and how it’s grown with Felicity and Roy, and how you feel it’s going to continue to grow?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s awesome. It’s so much fun as an actor to get to explore these other relationships. I hadn’t worked with Emily all that much or Colton all that much or David Ramsey all that much. So it’s great to sort of explore those relationships and what Laurel’s point of view is, and the chemistry, and how it all comes together. It’s been awesome. It’s so much fun being a part of the foundry and a part of Team Arrow. I really feel like there is a place for Laurel, like she absolutely should be there. I really love working with everyone. Colton is fantastic. Emily is amazing! We’ve had some really incredible scenes together, and you’ll get to see some coming up in this next episode. And even David Ramsey! I think it’s just fun, a new dynamic. Laurel is constantly challenged, and they question her at first. But she, again, continuously is proving herself, and she does prove herself to them. I think at first they’re hesitant with her being the Black Canary and going out in the streets and fighting with no training, but they actually see that she has it inside of her.